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"Exploring the Foucauldian interpretation of power and subject in organizations"

by Välikangas, Anita; Seeck, Hannele (2011)


This paper assesses the recent contribution of Michel Foucault to the study of power and subject in organizations. First, we theoretically examine Foucault's thinking by dividing his works into archaeological, genealogical and aesthetic/ethical phases. We then conduct a review of 113 international journal articles from between the years 2000 and 2009. We do this in order to obtain an overview of the phases of Foucault's thinking that are prevalent in recent organization studies. We find that recent academic studies drawing on Foucault are increasingly leaning towards Foucault's writings on governmentality, as well as on his genealogical works, which have sustained their popularity. Reflecting the growing interest in governmentality and genealogy, we end by pointing out some avenues for future research.

Key Passage

Another key feature, by which Foucault sees power as functioning in his genealogical writings, is the theme of pastoral power, a power relationship often found in the Judeo-Christian tradition (Foucault 2007, 175, 130). Foucault addressed this topic in greatest depth in his lectures at Collège de France 1977–1978 (see Foucault 2007). Pastoral power is a power relationship, where the pastor aims to modify the spirit and will of the guided person in a certain direction with the help of spiritual guidance and subjects’ confessions (Foucault 2007, 181; Foucault 1981; Elden 2005). During the confessions, the pastor aims to gain more knowledge on his subjects (Foucault 1977, 236-245). The result of the practice of confession is that the subject begins to produce a certain kind of truth about him or herself: "Starting from oneself, one will extract and produce a truth which binds one to the person who directs one's conscience" (Foucault 2007, 183). According to Foucault, the techniques used in pastoral power are present in various institutions and practices, and medicine in particular has been one of the great heirs of pastoral power (Foucault 2007, 199). In the present context, this topic is connected to the increasing use of applied psychology and psychological methods, also in organizational analysis (Rose 1999). As noted by Miller and Rose (2008, 42-44; see also Rose 1999), in the twentieth century, psychology has become one of the main tools for analysing workplaces and economic life.   (p.8)


Foucault, Power, Subject, Organizations, Management, Organisational Studies


On Foucault, Foucault, Critical Management Studies, Organisation and Management Studies

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